Shopping in Osaka: Celebrity Ass Wipes, Relaxing Toilet Seat Covers & Painful Ramen

Today we spent the day shopping for Shogun Sr’s new room at the care house.

We went looking for bathroom wipes, which, I am not lying, were labeled “Ushiri Celeb-u”; a product name that translates to “celebrity ass.”

On our way, we passed some toilet seat covers, which we didn’t buy, but here’s a picture of one of them:

Osaka Toilet Seat Cover
Osaka Toilet Seat Cover

Then we went out for ramen. The waiter gave me a very kind bow and handed me an English version of their menu. Some choice items:

Osaka sesame ramen
Osaka sesame ramen
Osaka spicy rame
Osaka spicy ramen
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My Osaka Flu Shot – If That’s What It Was

Since Shogun Sr. (my beloved father-in-law) is going soon into the care house—what the Japanese call a nursing home—I figured it was time to get my flu shot.

I’m going home to the U.S. next week for a visit, and I didn’t want to be the one who brought the U.S. flu epidemic over to Japan when I returned, especially not when I’ll be visiting Shogun Sr. everyday after I get back. He’s worried about not being able to have cigarettes at the care house, so, like a dutiful daughter-in-law, I agreed to take him out every day for a walk and a smoke—earning me a delighted grin from Shogun Sr. So the flu shot was the least I could do.

Today I went to my neighborhood clinic to inquire about making an appointment for my shot. I’m not sure exactly what happened—since I’m never sure exactly what is happening in this country—but I asked very politely, Fu-ru shot-o yoyaku onegaishimas, “I’d like to make an appointment for a flu shot.” I took out my calendar and stood politely and expectantly while they perused my health-insurance card.

The next thing I knew, the receptionist whipped out a thermometer, took my temperature, and pointed to a seat in the waiting room, barraging me with a stream of Japanese I couldn’t understand at all.

I sat down.  I guess I have to wait to make an appointment, I thought. Maybe their schedule was full and they were looking for openings.

I looked at the woman waiting across from me. She had a blue-tipped manicure, fuzzy black boots, and a black hat slanted jauntily on her head with white letters at the front proclaiming

Crazy
Sexy
Classy

She was also wearing a white paper mask over her mouth and nose.

Like almost everyone here, she saw no apparent contradiction in choosing your outfit carefully and then donning a medical mask to top it all off.

After a few minutes, the doctor poked his head around the corner and sang out Surata-sama!, the Japanese approximation of Ms. Slater.

I sat down on a tiny chair in his office and he pulled out a syringe.

I assume it was the flu shot but, since I barely speak Japanese, I couldn’t be sure. When he was done, I stood up.

Sitting in the waiting room again, waiting to pay or check out or see what was going to happen next, I texted my husband. He’d offered earlier to call the clinic and make the appointment for a shot for me, but I demurred, telling him I’d try to make the appointment myself and call him if I couldn’t. I’d felt very proud of my independence, my initiative, then.

i think i had a flu shot! I texted.

He texted back:

they may shot u sleep medicine, and sell to China!

And so it goes, another day in a life in a foreign language.

Writing & Laziness: An Apologia

And who ever died from not writing?

I cut-and-pasted my previous post, about success and the myth of the writer who never stops writing, on my Open Salon (OS) page, and I got some interesting responses. One of my connections at OS–the always-thought-provoking Skypixie0–then emailed me to say he had posted something new he wanted me to see, about writing & obsession, and that garnered quite a few comments about how writing is an unstoppable force, an inescapable pull, for those who are “real writers.”

The whole concept of a “real writer” is a little tricky for me, at base I think causes more insecurity than is worth it, so this is what I wrote back to my friend Skypixie0, and I’ll post a copy of it here, too:

In response to the wonderful Skypixie0, his OS message to me in response to my earlier post about writing & success, and his latest post about writing & obsession.

Hi Sky,

Thanks for pointing me to your post in your message about being a “blog-whore”–which totally got a laugh out of me! I love your humor.

I do have to respectfully disagree slightly with one of the assumptions underlying your post, though, or maybe it’s more with the idea of the whole concept of “being a writer.” I don’t think a writer is writing all the time, just like I don’t think a doctor is doctoring all the time. No one does everything all the time. And sometimes I think we are concerned with figuring out what a “real” writer is in the hopes we can then label ourselves one (and I include myself in this concern too–as my previous post that you responded to shows, this was a concept I struggled with, and still do, a lot!). But I’m wondering why we can’t see writing like any other endeavor. There are people who write. When they are writing, they are writers. When they aren’t, they aren’t.  If they write for money and they do this as a career and continually, then the are writers by trade. But that’s not so different from any other profession (or passion, or hobby, etc), is it?

I know before I got my book deal and I was going through the hard time I mention in the post you originally commented on, I really tormented myself with the fact that I must not be a real writer because I wasn’t writing all the time, or b/c I couldn’t fit into the mold that said “you write b/c you must,” you can’t survive without writing.

(And on that topic, who ever died from not writing?)

Then I just said, screw it, who cares what I am. I’ll write when I feel the pull to and won’t when I won’t, and I’ll live with being a writer some days (or weeks, or hours), and not others. And I feel much better, and more normal, about the whole concept now.

Or maybe this is all just my way of justifying when I’m lazy and don’t want to write! As I said to one of my friends after my book deal came through, maybe my next book should be “Writing & Laziness: An Apologia.”

Busting the Myth of the Writer Who Never Stops Writing

And the Motherlode Pitch that Started the Essay that Started It All

In the comments to my post here, about how I actually got my book deal, Philomela asked how I ended up getting in touch with the Motherlode editor at the New York Times, KJ Dell’Antonia (who’s great). Here’s the story (with a rather long intro, which I explain at the end)!

Honestly, I hadn’t written anything for almost a year, given the rigorous treatments I was undergoing, the stress of the 2 miscarriages, not being able to travel back home to the US b/c of it all, the month after month of being crushed, etc., etc. I felt like I had no energy to do anything but just get up, go to the clinic almost daily (in Japan, most clinics don’t allow women to give themselves the hormone shots, so I had to go in for my daily shots), keep writing for my regular part-time freelance job (I write content and overviews about faculty research for US universities) and function, at least externally, like a relatively normal person. I felt awful about it, like I was going to go through me early 40s with nothing to show for it but a bunch of failures and heartbreaks, and no career or writing advancement at all. But one night, on one of the infertility forums I used, I saw a post mentioning a previous Motherlode column (which I mention in my pitch below), and it gave me an idea for a pitch. So I sat down and tried to start a brief pitch, and the whole thing just came rolling out of, and I sent it that night, and KJ kindly responded right away saying she really liked the idea and wanted to post my piece. And the process (the piece being posted on the NYT site, the Putnam editor reading it and getting in touch, etc.) just rolled on from there, taking me totally by surprise. Once I had some sense that at least a few people might be interested in what I had to say, it became much easier to write (although it was still hard while I was going through treatments, but at least it was now manageable). It was just too much, though, to write into the vacuum of not-knowing-if-anyone-would-read-it, while I was dealing with the alienation of 4 years of trying, and failing, to get pregnant.

Anyway, I belabor this point a bit because as a writer I’ve heard a lot of people say that what makes a writer a real writer is that they just write, no matter what–they just keep going. And that just hasn’t always worked for me. Maybe I’m not a real writer; maybe I’m just someone with something to say who managed to interest an editor at Putnam and hopefully will interest a few more readers. But either way, I’d like to reassure people that sometimes (or at least this time), it’s not only the people who manage to write faithfully every day who get a book deal. Sometimes (or at least this time), it’s the people (or person) who fails miserably at that but who still has moments where they (or she) pulls through and it ends up working. For me, they key was to never give up completely, but to recognize that sometimes, with writing, things move or succeed when you least expect them to, and go nowhere when you most feel like they should be moving.

OK, now for the copy of the Motherlode pitch, in case it’s interesting or helpful to anyone:

Subject line: Motherlode pitch – Closed to Adoption: A Moral Failure?

Dear Ms. Dell’Antonia:

I know from reading your Motherlode posts that adoption is an issue close to your heart and that you are interested in blended families. Ours is culturally blended—in more ways than one: liberal American Jewish writer (me), and traditional Japanese salary-man (my husband).

We’ve also been blended, to some degree, on the issue of adoption, and I’d love to write a post for Motherlode about this topic, “Closed to Adoption: A Moral Failure?”

I was originally open to adoption and my husband, in whose culture adoption is extremely rare, never has been.  Now, as we near the end of 4 years IVF and other fertility treatments (all done in Japan, where we live, and where I don’t speak the language…stories for another time) and my 44th year, we are preparing to move on and live childless.

I’ve accepted, without even too much of a fight, my husband’s feelings that adoption just isn’t for him.  But my willingness to accept this—to prioritize my marriage and being a wife over the possibility of being a mother, to admit that I also to a great degree feel a much stronger urge to have our biological child than to have a child at all—makes me call into question a whole range of issues.  Chief among them is: Am I less entitled to mourn not having a child if I am not willing to do anything it takes to become a parent?  Is it some sort of moral failure to long for a biological child but not an adopted one?

Been thinking about this issue for years, ever since my first IVF round ended in a lost heartbeat at 9 weeks. But I’ve been thinking about writing about this issue for a while, too, ever since I read the blog’s “A Roadmap for Life Without Children” by Shelagh Little, or more accurately, since I read the passionate responses Little’s article engendered, especially her statement, “After not being able to have children for so long, I am ambivalent about adoption and parenthood in general. I admire people who have adopted children, but it is not for me.”

At 444 comments, her piece—and this statement in particular—was one of the most hotly-debated posts on the blog.

Would you be interested in a post written by me that explores this issue more fully?

More about me, and links to clips of mine, are @ http://www.fourstories.org/about_tracy_slater.html

Many thanks for considering this, and warm regards,

Tracy Slater

Biology & Longing: The New York Times Piece that Started It All

In an earlier post, I explained that this piece, which appeared in the New York Times Motherlode blog, was the catalyst for my book deal:

Biology & Longing

I’ve always respected rationality, mistrusted pure instinct. But when I fell in love with my husband, it was visceral: a deep, other-worldly kind of burn. It was also illogical.

We had spoken just a few, broken words.  I knew none of his native Japanese. While he could read English well enough to earn his Executive MBA in Boston, he was far from fluent. My mother, whose own logical plan for me included a nice Jewish doctor, helpfully pointed out the irrationality of our relationship.  My life was centered on writing and literature—in English. I was left of liberal. How could I possibly marry a traditional Japanese salary-man who barely spoke my language—and who would surely return to Asia, post-MBA?

Almost eight years later, I’m still absurdly in love with him, we still share neither linguistic fluency nor political leanings, and I still cannot logically explain our bond.

A year into our marriage, after numerous tests certifying his reproductive perfection at 36 and my dismal potential at 41, other dissimilarities emerged. I had always been uncertain about kids, but my love for my husband transformed my doubts into a longing for our child—a different kind of other-worldly burn. I had also always believed genetics were irrelevant, that to become related by choice was one of the loveliest human acts. In fact, one of my own parents never bonded with one of my siblings, who found home with a foster family. I knew first-hand that DNA doesn’t equal love.

My husband also deeply wanted a baby—with our genes. When he told me this, it made sense: adoption is very rare in contemporary Japan, where bloodlines are usually held sacred. (When Japanese children are orphaned, they are almost always taken in by extended family. Even donor eggs are banned here.)

My reaction to my husband’s feelings surprised me, though: relief. Once he articulated them, I realized that I too had faith I could love a child if it came from inside him and me, but not necessarily through other means.  My beliefs about genetics, apparently, did not hold up when facing the terrifying leap into parenthood.

Now, after over three heartbreaking years of trying to conceive, two miscarriages, and countless injections to compensate for my poor procreative profile—all endured in Japan, where I barely speak the language—my feelings have not changed, despite frequent prodding by well-meaning loved ones that “perhaps we should just adopt.”

At times, I’m slightly horrified by myself. What kind of person, I wonder, goes to such lengths over DNA? In my harshest moments I think, doesn’t the obsession with genetics underlie some of our worst human catastrophes? If I love my husband—surely no biological relative—so deeply, couldn’t I love an adopted child just as much?

I’ve found comfort from women in my “Over 40 and Trying” online groups who face similar struggles, including much confusion from others over why they “don’t just adopt.” But occasionally, it feels like in these forums, too, there’s an unspoken hierarchy of who’s willing to go the furthest to be a mother. Who’s open to donor eggs, sperm, or embryos? Who will pursue adoption after one failed IUI?

One friend found something similar in the adoption community: are you willing to adopt an older child? Another ethnicity? A special-needs kid? What does it say about you if you’re not?

Another friend explains, it’s just “instinct.” Some people have the instinct simply to parent, with or without a partner; some to birth a baby; some to have a child genetically theirs and their beloved’s.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get to meet our baby.  I have an inexplicable but strong, clear sense that our baby exists, that this is what it has asked us to go through in the effort to meet it, and that this makes it all worth it—even, strangely, if our baby never actually arrives. Perhaps my sense is just the remnants of a heartbeat lost at nine weeks, or of embryos that never grew past the brief first sparks of life. Perhaps it’s just my imagination.

Maybe, in nine months, when I reach the age at which my husband and I have vowed to stop trying, I’ll feel differently. Maybe I just can’t conceive of trying to adopt while trying so hard to conceive. But I don’t think that’s it. My longing, so fierce that sometimes I can barely move, is not necessarily to be a parent in the abstract, but to love and parent our biological child. Irrational? Perhaps. Shame-worthy? Sometimes I think so. But still deeply, instinctually true.

—-

PS. In case readers are interested, I just posted the pitch that preceded this essay here.

How’d You Land that Book Deal?

And the Essay Version Submitted Vs. the Version Accepted

People have been asking me lately how I actually landed my book deal, especially since the book is still only partly written, so here’s the basic story:

Mostly, I just got incredibly lucky!

Other than that, the story is that last year, I wrote a short piece for the New York Times‘ Motherlode blog, and an editor from Penguin’s Putnam imprint read it and contacted me, and invited me to submit a memoir proposal. After my heart resumed beating from the shock, I worked my tail off for a few months, took a MediaBistro’s online course in both the nonfiction book proposal with the incredible Jill Rothenberg and memoir writing with the incomparable Kelly McMasters (both so worth it!) and then submitted the proposal. Putnam then asked for more sample chapters, and I produced the first 4 chapters of the book. Then they offered me the deal!

Stay tuned for the announcement in Publisher’s Weekly, forthcoming later in January. In the meantime, here’s the New York Times online piece that started it all, in the version I submitted to the Motherlode editor, and in the version the New York Times published (but please forgive the title – it wasn’t the one I chose!).